Jesus once asked a very important question about our relationship to our stuff. He said, What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul (Mark 8:36)? Have you ever convinced yourself it was ok to make a purchase you didn’t really need? I know I have. Maybe we decide we deserve it. Maybe we’ve seen someone else with it, and envied it. Or, it’s been a rough week, and we know it will make us happy. But then that moment fades. We get home, and that object we were so driven to buy no longer gives us joy. We’re like a kid who plays more with the box than their new toy. Then something new catches our eye, and with it we see a new opportunity to feel that moment of joy again. Why do we want the next new thing that comes along? It’s because joy from possessions is fleeting. God did not create you to have a relationship with things; he created you to have a relationship with him and other people.
Buying something is often an easy fix. But it isn’t a sustainable cycle. Many Americans today are drowning in all of their stuff. If you combined all the self-storage facilities in the U.S., they would be almost the size of Las Vegas (83.3 square miles). Not only do we feel the drive to buy new things, we have a hard time letting go of the old. We feel driven to make more and more money to get the stuff we think we need. Thinking about material things can be a distraction from the things that really matter. That’s why Jesus said what he did about “gaining the whole world but losing your soul.”
The lack of contentment is sort of a crazy cycle, and it's one that can hurt us, our careers, our marriages, our kids, and even our hopes and dreams. It can also keep us from doing what God might be calling us to do in our lives. Jesus warns us about this.
In this season of Thanksgiving, it might be helpful to ask yourself, “Do I need stuff to make me happy?” and “How much stuff do I NEED?” Thinking through these questions will help you find balance and gratitude. Gratitude and moderation lead to contentment. And contentment is the exit gate for the cycle of consumerism. In Philippians 4:12, the Apostle Paul said, I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. What was his secret of being content? It was leaning into, and living for, Jesus who provides eternal life and joy.
Happy Thanksgiving and see you at church,
The accompanying photo, by Chris Christo, is of Brielle and Kyrie Jackson who were born October 17, 1995 at Massachusetts Memorial Hospital in Worcester, MA. Each of the twins, having been born prematurely, weighed two pounds at birth. They were watched over very carefully, each in their respective incubators. Kyrie began putting on weight immediately, but Brielle struggled. She cried and cried, leaving her gasping and blue-faced. Doctors did not think Brielle would survive. They wrapped her in blankets, her mother held her, and her father held her, but nothing they did seemed to help. Finally, a hospital nurse, Gayle Kasparian, went against hospital rules and placed the babies in one incubator together. Almost immediately, Brielle snuggled up to Kyrie, and Kyrie--the healthier of the two--put her arm over her sister in an endearing embrace. Brielle’s blood-oxygen saturation levels, which had been frighteningly low, soared. She began to breathe more easily. The frantic crying stopped and her normal pinkish color quickly returned. Over the next weeks, her health improved steadily in her new, less lonely quarters.
This touching story about the power of healing love between siblings is a lesson for all of us. We live in a culture that continues to be ever more harsh in its attitudes and use of words. People use words to bully others, cut them down, and to instigate anger and division. That’s the world we live in, but God’s people must do better if we are going to represent Jesus well to the lost world. People need the hope and encouragement that comes from those who understand we are on a journey together through this life which leads us to Heaven.
In Romans 13:17-18 the Apostle Paul wrote, Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. And in Hebrews 3:13 we read, Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today.” You never know for sure what difficulties someone may be going through at any moment. That’s why we must be intentional about giving encouragement to those within our circle of influence.
Blessings to you,
It’s the beginning of another school year, and it reminds me that our learning is never done. Psalm 19:1-2 says, The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.” In Acts 17:11 we read about a group of godly folk who studied the Bible regularly: Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. And Proverbs 12:15 reminds us that we can learn a lot from other people: The wise listen to advice.
With all of that in mind, here are 20 tips of everyday wisdom from cowboys:
1. Never squat with your spurs on!
2. Never kick a fresh cow chip on a hot day.
3. There's two theories to arguin' with a woman....Neither one works.
4. Don't worry about bitin' off more than you can chew. Your mouth is probably a whole lot bigger than you think.
5. If you get to thinkin' you're a person of influence, try orderin' somebody else's dog around.
6. After eating an entire bull, a mountain lion felt so good he started roaring. He kept it up until a hunter came along and shot him. The moral: When you're full of bull, keep your mouth shut.
7. If you find yourself in a hole the first thing to do is stop diggin'.
8. Never smack a man who's chewin' tobacco.
9. It don't take a genius to spot a goat in a flock of sheep.
10. Never ask a barber if he thinks you need a haircut.
11. Good judgement comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgement.
12. Always drink upstream from the herd.
13. Never drop your gun to hug a grizzly.
14. If you're ridin' ahead of the herd, take a look back every now and then to make sure it's still there.
15. When you give a lesson in meanness to a critter or a person, don't be surprised if they learn their lesson.
16. When you're throwin' your weight around, be ready to have it thrown around by somebody else.
17. Lettin' the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier than puttin' it back.
18. Always take a good look at what you're about to eat. It's not so important to know what it is, but it's critical to know what it was.
19. The quickest way to double your money is to fold it over and put it back in your pocket.
20. Never miss a good chance to shut up.
Here’s a proverb from Yours Truly: “You’re never so smart about the Bible or know so much about God that there isn’t something new to learn about both…so go to church and study the Bible with other faithful believers.” Just sayin’.
In 1 Peter 5:8-9 we read, Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith….” We must never forget that the devil is always on the prowl, waiting for us to drop our guard and fall asleep on the job so he can stealthily find an entrance into our lives. In our moments of complacency, we are especially vulnerable. The enemy of your soul is constantly poised to exploit any perceivable weakness, and when he makes his move, it is often with devastating consequences. Therefore, we must perpetually remain on guard — diligent, wide-awake, and doing our part to protect ourselves from the evil lurking in the shadows.
How does one remain spiritually alert and of sober mind? This question must be answered accurately, because it seems that a lot of followers of Jesus deceive themselves by thinking that it is God’s job alone to protect them from the devil. Many a Christian has fallen prey to Satan’s temptations merely because they live as though there is no real danger “out there.” They live unintentionally when it comes to their walk with God.
One important and specific way to be spiritually alert is to be vigilant about not exposing ourselves to environments that have spiritually negative consequences. An integral part of being vigilant is to stay away from places, events, and people that are detrimental to our spiritual lives. This isn’t being judgmental, but it IS making a judgment call. For instance, stay away from immoral films and web sites that stir carnal passions and arouse temptation. Separate yourself from others whose lower standard of holiness and lack of concern for the things of God might lead you to sin against God. Avoid situations and people that will influence you to overindulge with alcohol or drugs, even if they are legal. I recently heard a news report regarding research as to when people are most likely to be introduced to substances leading to addiction. The research discovered that most people first tried alcohol, weed, and drugs such as cocaine or heroin during the summertime at a party with friends.
The Bible makes it clear that it is our duty to avoid anything that is opposed to a life of holiness. By doing so, we fulfill our part in protecting ourselves from the evil in the world, and we become an influencer for what is good. This is our responsibility, and God expects us to fulfill it seriously. In the animal kingdom, an antelope that carelessly grazes too close to a lion is killed and eaten. There’s a reason why once an antelope hears, sees, or smells a lion it takes off running in the opposite direction. Distance from an enemy is good.
Take this as a wake-up call for you to be more vigilant about where you go, what you do, and with whom you spend time. Let the Bible’s message and the Holy Spirit’s conviction speak to you about walking in greater spiritual freedom and holiness. There are places, events, and people that are spiritually detrimental to your future. Rather than put yourself in spiritual jeopardy by allowing these things in your life, it is safer to put distance between them and yourself.
So I ask you — are you sensibly putting space between yourself and detrimental places, events, and people that aren’t healthy for you? Be alert. Keep a sober mind. Stand in the Biblical faith.
Did you hear about the story regarding the “Peace Cross” war memorial in Bladensburg, Maryland? The American Humanist Association sued the state claiming that it had no business posting a cross on public lands and maintaining it with public monies. The AHA claimed that the government was violating the separation of church and state by allowing this WWI memorial to stand. The American Legion then sued AHA, defending the right to allow the memorial to stand. In June the Supreme Court made the decision that the Peace Cross can remain standing, and that it is not a violation of the separation of church and state.
Sadly, though, its opinion does little to clear up confusion over what the First Amendment’s “Establishment Clause” really means. The consensus around the decision is impressive and refreshing. Seven of the nine Justices agreed that the 32-foot, cross-shaped war memorial (constructed with private funds) should stay put at the terminus of the National Defense Highway. But their reasoning for allowing it to remain is that the cross memorial is more closely linked to World War I than to religious values. That kind of reasoning is causing confusion about what the Establishment Clause really means, and that kind of reasoning will continue to allow more lawsuits of this kind that seek to remove all things “Christian” from the public square.
One thing that the majority of Justices got right is that the removal of the Peace Cross memorial would not be seen by the public as an act of religious neutrality on the part of government, but it would be seen as an act of hostility toward religion. But are they correct in saying that the cross is more about remembering those who sacrificed their lives in WWI than about Christ who sacrificed himself on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins? Let’s admit it: Yes, the Peace Cross memorializes those who sacrificed their lives for American freedom, but the Cross ultimately points us to the Jesus who died there, and who gives forgiveness of sins and the hope of eternal life to those who have been united with him in faith and baptism, and who have died.
Today’s U.S. Supreme Court seems headed in the right direction. The purpose of the “separation of church and state” was to protect religious freedom by ensuring that the government could not coerce citizens to support a particular religious group. It wasn’t to ensure that non-believers are shielded from expressions of faith, rather, that they remain free to look away. Until the Supreme Court makes this clear, we can expect more of these misguided lawsuits.
Happy 4th of July!